By Charlie Green
In the rapidly evolving landscape of real estate, the transformation from traditional structures to smart buildings is fundamentally reshaping the domain of facilities management. With an astonishing projection of over 150% increase in the number of smart buildings worldwide, climbing from 45 million to 115 million in just five years, the impact of this shift is bound to be significant.
From a facilities management perspective, smart buildings offer a transition from a reactive to a proactive approach. They provide a 360-degree view of a building’s operation, aiding in predictive maintenance, standards compliance, enhancing occupant experience, and improving sustainability. However, with all its promising benefits, the question arises—are smart buildings a boon or a bane for facilities management?
What Is A Smart Building?
A smart building is a structure that integrates various building-wide systems such as HVAC, lighting, alarms, and security into a single IT-managed network infrastructure. This convergence often uses foundational technology such as Power over Ethernet (PoE) or Internet of Things (IoT) technologies. A smart building uses its intelligence to collect actionable data from user devices, sensors, systems, and services on the premises. Applying that data using artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) makes the building both programmable and responsive to the needs of the users and the building manager. PoE and IoT technologies can power devices such as sensors, lighting, HVAC systems, elevators, and fire alarms, as well as USB-C laptops, TV and computer monitors, shades, refrigerators, and room air conditioners in a smart building.
What Can Smart Buildings Offer Facilities Managers?
The role of a facilities manager is often characterized as reactive, dealing with issues as they arise rather than proactively preventing them. This approach can lead to time-consuming firefighting and managing complaints. However, the advent of smart building technology provides a potential revolution to this issue, turning the facilities manager’s role into a proactive one.
Smart buildings, with their interconnected environments, provide a holistic view of real-time operations across a facility. Through the use of Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, data is continuously fed into a centralized control platform, providing a wealth of information that allows facilities managers to make informed decisions and focus their efforts on future planning.
For instance, occupancy sensors can identify areas of high usage, enabling facilities managers to schedule preventive maintenance and avoid disruptive breakdowns. Similarly, current sensors can detect potential issues within machinery and supply cables, allowing for early intervention before a costly and time-consuming failure occurs.
Moreover, smart technology enables the setting of concrete objectives and the use of predictive analytics for resource consumption. This approach ensures optimal efficiency levels are maintained, reducing waste and saving costs.
In essence, the predictive planning made possible by smart buildings offers several significant advantages:
- Reduction in Overall Maintenance Costs: By identifying potential issues before they escalate into major problems, smart buildings can significantly reduce the time and resources spent on maintenance.
- Prolonging the Lifespan of Fixtures and Fittings: Proactive maintenance, facilitated by data-driven insights, can extend the life of building elements, resulting in cost savings and less environmental waste.
- Enhancing Productivity and Occupant Morale: A well-maintained environment, free from frequent breakdowns and disruptions, can significantly boost productivity and enhance occupant satisfaction.
Significant Help With Standards Compliance
The scope and complexity of industry standards and sustainability regulations continue to expand and provide continual challenges for businesses to overcome. This is where smart sensors in buildings come into play, enabling continuous monitoring and streamlining the process of compliance with these standards.
In the context of sustainability, bodies such as the UK Green Building Council have advocated for significant reductions in energy use in line with international commitments like the Paris Agreement. This agreement aims to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. By employing environmental monitoring and occupancy sensors, facilities managers can obtain a 24/7 view of how spaces are being used. This constant surveillance allows for the efficient optimization of various factors, such as lighting, energy use, ventilation, and temperature, within a given area. By automatically adjusting these systems based on real-time demand, smart buildings can significantly reduce overall energy consumption, aligning with the goal of sustainability and energy conservation.
Enhanced Employee and Visitor Experience
The building occupants’ experience, whether they are employees or visitors, is of utmost importance. Smart buildings equipped with sensors that monitor indoor air quality, lighting, and temperature can provide an environment that is not just comfortable but optimal for the occupants. This becomes particularly impactful when individuals have the ability to personalize their own spaces, a feature that is increasingly becoming a standard in the development of health-centric buildings.
Additionally, smart buildings often incorporate automated systems for desk and meeting room reservations. This functionality not only eliminates the possibility of double bookings but also streamlines the entire booking process, delivering unparalleled flexibility and ease of use for everyone involved.
Upon the end of a meeting or event, automatic alerts can be dispatched to cleaning crews to prepare the room for the next occupants, and catering teams can be notified to restock refreshments. This automated workflow reduces the need for direct intervention from facilities management, freeing up their time for tasks where their expertise is most needed. In summary, smart buildings not only create a more enjoyable environment but also contribute to the happiness, well-being, and motivation of the employees working within.
Improved Environmental Impact & Sustainability
Smart buildings significantly improve energy efficiency by leveraging the power of data collection and analysis. Through the use of integrated systems and IoT devices, smart buildings can collect real-time data on energy usage, such as HVAC operation, lighting levels, and occupancy patterns. This data is then analyzed and used to optimize the building’s energy consumption.
For instance, lighting and HVAC systems can be automatically adjusted based on the occupancy or time of day, reducing energy usage when areas are unoccupied. Additionally, predictive maintenance enabled by smart buildings can identify equipment inefficiencies before they become significant energy drains. According to a study by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, smart building technologies can reduce a building’s energy use by an average of 18% and can reduce energy costs by 8-15%. With their ability to reduce energy consumption, smart buildings also play a significant role in lowering carbon emissions. This is crucial in our global effort to combat climate change and achieve net-zero carbon emissions targets.
Do Smart Buildings Pose Any Issues To Facilities Managers?
The security aspect is a significant point of concern for both facilities and property managers. Ensuring that the interoperability of devices—a key element for the success of a smart building—is secure, is crucial for these professionals to confidently rely on these systems for decision-making. A major hurdle in this context is the fact that smart technologies are driven by a multitude of IoT devices and sensors, which are potentially susceptible to cyber threats.
A whitepaper on security in smart buildings and smart cities, collaborated on by Virtually Informed and Unified Security, emphasizes the need to prioritize and evaluate cybersecurity across the entire supply chain. This is to safeguard data, uphold privacy, and mitigate cyber risks. As stated in the whitepaper, security measures should commence with individual devices. Crucial risk assessments aimed at identifying weak points are essential, and the central smart control platform plays a pivotal role in thwarting cybercriminals.
By opting for a platform that incorporates the ‘security by design’ principle, and by choosing a master system integrator with profound understanding of security challenges, many of these worries can be lessened.
Are Smart Buildings The Future Of Effective Facilities Management?
In conclusion, the advent of smart buildings marks a transformative era in facilities management, offering an array of benefits that streamline operations, enhance occupants’ experiences, and champion sustainability. By harnessing the power of IoT and advanced analytics, facilities managers can shift from a reactive approach to a proactive one, empowering them to predict and mitigate issues before they escalate. This not only optimises the use of resources but also enhances the lifespan of infrastructure, leading to significant cost savings.
However, like any technological innovation, smart buildings come with their own set of challenges. Chief among these is the concern over cybersecurity, given the vulnerability of IoT devices and sensors to potential cyber threats. As such, it is crucial to incorporate stringent security measures across the entire supply chain and opt for a central control platform that upholds the ‘security by design’ principle.
While the journey towards widespread adoption of smart buildings is still in progress, it is clear that they represent a significant leap forward in facilities management. By proactively addressing the challenges and leveraging the numerous benefits, facilities managers can harness the potential of smart buildings to create a more efficient, sustainable, and user-friendly environment.
Green is the Senior Research Analyst at Comparesoft.